Many people use the natural sleep supplement melatonin to help regulate a better sleep pattern. But the key is in the dosage. Here, James Dixon explains how melatonin works, and how the correct melatonin dosage is crucial for its effectiveness.
Melatonin plays a crucial role in regulating sleep-wake cycles. It is responsible for maintaining the body’s internal clock and signaling when it’s time to sleep. Many people take it to help improve their ability to fall asleep and the quality of sleep they then get, to generally great effect.
However, if you’re considering supplementing with melatonin, it is important to determine the appropriate dosage for you. Various factors go into finding the ideal dosage, including age, body weight, and personal sensitivity. It is recommended to start with a low dose and gradually increase it if needed. This approach allows individuals to gauge their response to melatonin and find the optimal dosage for their specific needs.
But don’t worry. Today, we’re going to go through everything you need to make sure you’re getting the right dose for you, for optimal benefits and, ultimately, for a better night’s rest.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland of the brain. It plays a crucial role in the sleep regulation. Its production and release are influenced by the body’s internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, which is primarily influenced by darkness and light. The production and release of melatonin increases during darkness, promoting sleepiness, while exposure to light inhibits its production, promoting wakefulness.
It is important to note that melatonin production naturally declines with age. This decrease in production can contribute to sleep disturbances and difficulties, particularly among older adults. Therefore, melatonin supplementation is generally a good idea for older adults, where it can function as quite a potent solution to sleep-related issues.
You can get a wide array of melatonin supplements either as oral tablets or capsules, most of which will be artificially synthesized in labs. They will all aim to provide an additional dose of melatonin to help regulate sleep patterns and address sleep disorders.
How does melatonin work?
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the pineal gland in the brain. As above, it plays a crucial role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm. The release of melatonin is influenced by the amount of light exposure we receive.
The pineal gland produces melatonin in the absence of light and releases it into the bloodstream. This tells the body it’s time to sleep and helps make us sleepy. Melatonin levels increase in the evening and peak during the night, promoting deep and restful sleep.
Melatonin works by interacting with specific receptors in the brain, called MT1 and MT2 receptors, found mainly in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. The SCN acts as the body’s main clock, regulating sleep and other processes. When melatonin binds to these receptors, it reduces brain activity and promotes sleep. It also helps to align the body’s internal clock with the outside world, ensuring a consistent sleep schedule.
Melatonin supplements are commonly used to help regulate sleep in individuals with sleep disorders or those who experience difficulty falling asleep. These supplements can be particularly useful for those of us who work night shifts or frequently travel across different time zones, as they help to reset the body’s internal clock.
It is important to note that melatonin is not a sedative and does not induce sleep by itself. Instead, it acts as a signal for the body to prepare for sleep. Factors such as a quiet, dark environment, a regular sleep schedule, and good sleep hygiene practices are also essential for a restful night’s sleep. These should be prioritized over melatonin use.
You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider before beginning any new supplementation routine, especially if you suffer from any underlying health conditions or are on a pre-existing medical regime.
Melatonin supplements are commonly used to treat various sleep disorders, including but not limited to:
Research on the melatonin’s efficacy for insomnia is ongoing, although current evidence suggests that it may reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. However, its impact on overall sleep quality and duration remains unclear. Melatonin supplementation may be more beneficial for older adults who may have decreased natural melatonin production.
Circadian rhythm sleep disorder in blind people
Melatonin can be incredibly effective for improving circadian rhythm sleep disorders among adults and children who are visually impaired, where light perception is obviously either wholly or partially absent. Melatonin supplementation can help regulate their sleep patterns and establish a more stable circadian rhythm.
Delayed sleep phase disorder
Delayed sleep phase disorder is a condition in which an individual’s sleep pattern is significantly delayed compared to the conventional sleep-wake cycle. People with this disorder have difficulty falling asleep at an appropriate time and, as a result, will typically find it hard to wake up feeling refreshed when they want to.
Research suggests that melatonin can reduce the time required to fall asleep and promote earlier sleep onset in adults and children suffering from delayed sleep phase disorder.
Melatonin has proven to be effective in alleviating symptoms associated with jet lag, such as daytime sleepiness and impaired alertness. Taking melatonin supplements before and during travel can help adjust the body’s internal clock to the new time zone, facilitating a smoother transition and adaptation to the new sleep-wake schedule.
Sleep disorders in children
There is some promising data suggesting that melatonin may be useful in treating childhood sleep disorders. However, though melatonin may help treat sleep disturbances in children with certain disabilities, it is important to consult a healthcare professional before administering melatonin to children. Establishing good bedtime habits is usually recommended as the initial treatment approach.
Dosing melatonin appropriately
The appropriate dosage of melatonin can vary depending on the individual and specific circumstances. It is important to note that melatonin is not regulated as a medication by the FDA in the United States or by similar regulatory bodies in other countries. Therefore, there is no official recommended dosage for melatonin for adults. However, a range of one to five milligrams is generally considered effective. It’s a good idea to start with a lower dosage and gradually increase if needed.
Timing is also important when taking melatonin. You should generally aim to take melatonin a couple of hours before bedtime to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle. This allows your body to naturally increase melatonin levels in preparation for sleep. Taking melatonin too early in the evening may not have the desired effect, while taking it too close to bedtime may cause drowsiness the next morning.
You should also note that melatonin is not intended to be a long-term solution for sleep problems. It’s not appropriate to rely on it for too long.
Rather, try to use it in conjunction with good sleep hygiene practices, such as maintaining a regular sleep schedule, creating a conducive sleep environment, and avoiding stimulating activities before bedtime. These practices are essential for promoting healthy sleep patterns. With these in place, you may be able to rely less on melatonin supplementation over time.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women should always seek advice from their healthcare provider before taking melatonin (or indeed any new supplement), as there is limited research on the safety of melatonin use in this population. Your doctor should be able to properly advise you on how to proceed with it, if at all. They will be able to guide you through the potential risks and benefits before you begin taking it.
Older adults may be more sensitive to the effects of melatonin due to the natural decline in melatonin levels as they age. Older adults have more to gain from it, but should start with the smallest practical dose to avoid disrupting their natural sleep patterns and causing long-lasting tiredness. One to two milligrams should do it to begin with.
It is also worth noting that older adults suffering from dementia may want to avoid melatonin use as it may exacerbate symptoms.
The safety and appropriate dosage of melatonin for children and adolescents are still being studied. As a hormone, melatonin use may have an impact on a child’s healthy development, so caution is advised.
If you’re considering melatonin for your child, you should first consult with your healthcare provider, who will be able to guide you through the potential pros and cons. The usual recommended doses for childhood insomnia typically sits at the lower end. A range between one to two milligrams should be enough, though the specific dosage should be determined by your child’s doctor.
Children below the age of five should not be given melatonin. They may experience side effects such as agitation, increased bedwetting, giddiness, lethargy, and headaches.
Melatonin may be recommended for children with sleep disorders or disorders affecting sleep, such as autism spectrum disorder, insomnia, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, as above, more research is needed to determine the longer-term safety and ideal dosage for children.
In many cases, good sleep hygiene practices can be just as effective in treating pediatric insomnia as melatonin. It is important to discuss any sleep issues that your child may be experiencing with their healthcare provider and explore alternative solutions when appropriate.
As above, you should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider before beginning any new supplementation routine, especially if you suffer from any underlying health conditions or are on a pre-existing medical regime.
The right amount of melatonin for you
You should generally begin with the lowest recommended dosage when looking for the right melatonin intake for yourself.
As we have seen, the usual starting dose is between one and five milligrams for adults. Older adults might find that lower doses can be effective. It’s important to consult a doctor before giving melatonin to children.
Melatonin supplements are generally available in typical amounts, dosed at regular integers. You should easily be able to take one milligram. It’s generally not a good idea to cut tablets for smaller doses.
Some health concerns and medications can increase your risk of experiencing side effects with melatonin use, so it’s important to discuss with your doctor if you’re taking birth control, blood thinners, immunosuppressants, corticosteroids, or blood pressure medication. Certain populations, such as children, those suffering from dementia, depression, epilepsy, pregnant or breastfeeding individuals, and shift workers, should consult their doctor before taking melatonin.
Do note that the longer-term effects of melatonin are still unknown, and its benefits and usage are still being studied.
If sleep problems continue after a few weeks of melatonin use, then you should speak with a doctor who can suggest strategies for better sleep and evaluate other potential causes.
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. It can be taken as a supplement to improve sleep quality and may be especially effective in certain populations, and in certain circumstances (jet lag, circadian rhythm disorder in the blind, and so on). However, dosing it correctly can be a bit difficult.
The appropriate dosage varies depending on factors such as age, body weight, and personal sensitivity.
You should always start with a low dose and gradually increase if needed. One to two milligrams should do it for the first few weeks – this level of dosing and no more may be appropriate for longer in older adults and children.
Your timing is also important when you’re taking melatonin. It has an acute effect, meaning that it works short term and quickly. You should try to take it a couple of hours before bedtime for best results. Too early and it may do you no good. Too late and you may struggle to get up come morning.
Melatonin is not a long-term solution. Far from it. It is useful for alleviating certain symptoms. However, it won’t typically address the root cause of your sleep concerns. You should speak to your healthcare provider about longer-term options, and should always prioritize good sleep hygiene, an active lifestyle, a healthy diet, and a healthy sleep environment.